Each of us, whether directly or not, was affected by yet another school shooting in Parkland Florida on Ash Wednesday. What seems different this time is the response to the shooting, particularly from the youth in Florida and around the country. Grief, fear, and anger have been positive motivators as youth use their voices in rallies and protests to convey the need for legislation to help bring an end to gun violence. I have been inspired by these youth who in response to this traumatic event are taking action for the benefit of all. It is not difficult to see God at work in the midst of such violence and loss.
What does all of this tell us in the context of the Church document “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”? Two quotes from this document struck me as especially pertinent. The document quotes the following from Pope Francis in Laudato Si: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start…” The document also says, “It is important that young people–often withdrawn into a stereotype of passivity and inexperience–propose and practice alternatives which show how the world or the Church could be…”
Our personal and communal experiences play a major part in discerning how God is calling us to be our best selves. We experience our joys and sorrows in the context of a member of a family, a member of the Catholic Church, and a member of our country and global community. Sifting through those joys and sorrows, and all of our other feelings, we ask, “Where is God in all of this? How is God asking me to use these experiences, along with my gifts and talents, to make the world a better place?” Most of the time, this is a long, gradual process, a path of exploration that requires patience. Other times, something happens that causes a sudden major shift and sets us on a path we never would have imagined. Sometimes it is a path we would have never chosen in the first place, especially if it involves tragedy and grief. But when we come together behind a common goal and vision, it is a powerful force. We know that we are not alone, and together we can accomplish so much more than any individual.
These recent events are a reminder that youth have their own wisdom and a voice that needs to be heard. I am reminded of Jeremiah (Jer 1:5-9) who told God that he was too young to speak as a prophet. God assured Jeremiah that he indeed was called and that God would be with him. I see these youth responding to the Florida school shooting as prophetic, by giving voice to their needs and calling for change that has so far not been accomplished. They are a voice saying “never again.” Certainly, this is not the world God imagines for us, whether we are a student, teacher, parent, or a person who is so troubled inside that they resort to violence.
I recently attended a session of the ForMission program, which is designed by the Religious Formation Conference for religious in formation ministry (journeying with those in the process of entering religious life). One of the speakers, Sr. Linda Gibler spoke about the universe story and evolution in a religious context. Those of us present tend to the younger members of our religious congregations. And we were delighted when Sr. Linda described how juvenile chimpanzees are the ones who first came down from the trees to be adventurous and explore new paths.
It is tragic that it takes repeated events like school shootings to move us to action. Yet I am proud and hopeful to see the way in which youth have responded. Whether they are mindful of it or not, they are surely following God’s call. While their path changed in an instant, they have a long road of healing ahead of them. Let each of us discern how we can be a healing presence in our broken world.
Author: Sister Lynn Mousel is the coordinator of membership development of the Congregation of Humility of Mary. She enjoys sharing the spirit and mission of her community, whether it is with those discerning a vocation to religious life, lay associates, or staff of the Humility of Mary Center and sponsored ministries.